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Defense Verdict in Alleged Real Estate Fraud Case

November 12, 2020

On November 12, 2020, a fully masked Orange County jury, which was seated about the courtroom, including the gallery, returned a Defense Verdict in favor of Rajeswari Vunnamadala. Murchison & Cumming, LLP Partner Lisa D. Angelo tried the case. Senior Associate Darin W. Flagg provided law and motion assistance and Associate Vedang J. Patel provided trial assistance over the course of the three-week trial.

The plaintiff Hymavathi Kunamneni sued Vunnamadala, her former best friend of 34 years, for Intentional Misrepresentation, Negligent Misrepresentation, Constructive Fraud and Breach of Fiduciary Duty in connection with Kunamneni's belief that Vunnamadala caused her to make bad investment decisions and in so doing, Vunnamadala accepted large sums of money from Kunamneni to finalize her property purchases for her in India. Vunnamadala vehemently denied each and every allegation set forth by Kunamneni.

The unique case concerned the sale of three lots of land in India. In addition to being Plaintiff's best friend, Vunnamadala was a licensed real estate agent in Orange County who had previously worked as the plaintiff's agent and helped her buy and sell real estate in Orange County in the early 2000s. Vunnamadala denied working as Kunamneni's agent or helping her buy any of the Indian properties she now regrets purchasing between 2008 and 2011. In 2015, Kunamneni began to voice regret and concern about the value of her properties and started to accuse Vunnamadala of tricking her into making bad investment decisions in India. Kunamneni also began to threaten Vunnamadala and bad mouthed Vunnamadala in India as well as in Orange County.

Defense real estate expert Alan Wallace, Esq. testified that in the absence of an agency relationship between the parties, there can be no breach of fiduciary duty. To establish an agency relationship there had to be an express written agreement between the parties or conduct that implied an agency relationship existed. Because there was no evidence of an express written agreement after 2003 (when Vunnamadala was Kunamneni's real estate agent in Orange County, CA) and the conduct of the parties did not establish consent to enter into an agency relationship, no agency existed between Kunamneni and Vunnamadala for any of Kunamneni's Indian property purchases. Wallace also observed there was no evidence of any commission earned by Vunnamadala in exchange for working as Kunamneni's agent in India. This further showed the parties did not have an agent/client agreement between them. Defense Indian law and Indian real estate expert Monisha Coelho further explained that none of the Indian real estate documents produced at trial showed that Vunnamadala was Kunamneni's agent and simple acts such as going to India's registration office to drop off and pick up real estate documents for Kunamneni did not create an agency relationship between the parties.

After a three-week trial, the jury took less than three hours to find Defendant Vunnamadala not liable for any of the fraud-based claims Kunamneni alleged including her claim for punitive damages.